Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Joe Russo on Citadel: ‘Marvel was contained – now we're reaching out into the world’

Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Joe Russo, and David Weil discuss Amazon Prime Video's new spy thriller Citadel

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“That is the most complex part of Citadel, but as I said also the most rewarding” explains director Joe Russo, talking about the global reach of his new spy thriller for Amazon Prime Video

Citadel follows two elite spies who, in the wake of a massive attack carried out by the Manticore syndicate, have their memories erased and identities suppressed. Eight years later, when Manticore resurfaces, Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) pick up the pieces of their former lives and become Citadel agents once more. Said to be one of the most expensive television series ever made, Citadel is at the forefront of Amazon’s plans to build a new franchise from the ground up – with a number of different spinoffs already in development.

Ahead of the release of the series, star Priyanka Chopra Jonas, director and co-creator Joe Russo, and showrunner David Weil joined NationalWorld’s Alex Moreland to share some behind-the-scenes secrets from the making of Citadel. They each discuss their creative influences – from favourite spy stories to what they learned in past experiences with the genre – as well as detailing some of the challenges involved in realising such a complex production. You can watch a recorded version of the interview above, or find the video on our YouTube channel. 

You can also read a longer version of our conversation with David Weil, where he also explains how he navigated his dual responsibilities as a writer and a producer, talks about his working relationship with the Russos, and reveals a little about his next project with Amazon.

Richard Madden as Mason Kane and Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Nadia Sinh in Citadel, staring into each other's eyes (Credit: Prime Video)Richard Madden as Mason Kane and Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Nadia Sinh in Citadel, staring into each other's eyes (Credit: Prime Video)
Richard Madden as Mason Kane and Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Nadia Sinh in Citadel, staring into each other's eyes (Credit: Prime Video)

Did your past experiences with the spy genre – Joe on films like The Grey Man, and Priyanka on Don – shape your approach to Citadel at all?

Joe Russo: I mean, look, my brother and I are intertextualists, we make no bones about celebrating our influences. We love genre the same way that everyone else loves genre. And so yes, there’s some obvious influences on this, including Bond –

Priyanka Chopra Jonas: I’m actually Bond in this.

JR: That’s right! That’s what I was gonna say that’s important. You bring up an important point, because this is traditionally a genre driven by a white male lead. I think what I love about the show is that Priyanka is a character that is the physical, ass-kicking engine that drives the first season.

PCJ: And I’m not a white male! [Laughs]

JR: That’s right! The mission always is to surprise people in some way, to subvert it in some way. We all like watching genre because it’s comfort food for us, right? We understand the rules of it. But we love it as storytellers because the stakes are very high. It’s life and death situations. The other thing that I think is really impressive about the show is the character work, and the work that both Priyanka and Richard have done in the show. These are very complicated characters: there’s a high concept at the core of it, where they lose their memories and become entirely new people – and then, if those memories were to merge at some point, how do they reconcile who they are currently? If they have a family, right, the morality of who they were in the past is going to smash into who they are today. That’s a very complicated question, and a real challenge for actors to play. I think they both did an amazing job.

PCJ: For me, you know, I didn’t go into this with the influences of my past or the characters that I’ve played in the past. I don’t like ever approaching what I’m doing next with what I’ve done before. Yes, of course, I have experience with the physicality of doing action and that, of course, I bring to the show, but as a character, not at all. In fact, I wanted to go into it with a complete open mind, and I wanted to really learn from Joe, Anthony, David Weil, Richard Madden, Stanley Tucci. Our cast is amazing, our crew were the best of the best in the business who have done the biggest movies, so I really went in there like a sponge. I would hover around Joe while he was doing post on one movie and pre-production on another, or with David, just to pick their brains about how to make Nadia wholesome. I just really leaned on them. I did not actually want to bring anything from my past, which was awesome, because I felt like I could make Nadia very different than what I’ve done before.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Nadia Sinh in Citadel, pointing a gun at a man across a table (Credit: Prime Video)Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Nadia Sinh in Citadel, pointing a gun at a man across a table (Credit: Prime Video)
Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Nadia Sinh in Citadel, pointing a gun at a man across a table (Credit: Prime Video)

What were your influences when it came to making Citadel?

David Weil: I mean, Bond, you know? Bond, Mission Impossible, Bourne – I wish I could say, like, some obscure spy thriller, but the truth is I grew up on the movies that I think the world really has fallen in love with. To me, what is so unique about Citadel is not only the opportunity to tell a story in six parts over nearly five or six hours, [but] to get to go home with the spies. You get to see them when they're not at work, you get to see the flaws and depths and dimensions in a way that sometimes a two-and-a-half-hour film may not allow. But I also think, you know, you talk about Bond, Bourne, Mission Impossible, those are all white western male leads at the centre of it. What would also set Citadel apart is that we have a spy duo at the centre of this – I would say that Nadia Sinh really propels so much of the storytelling, so much of the action. To have an Indian spy and an American spy working together, it's just so modern and it's so different and it's so exciting. I hope that more spy stories begin to reflect the world around us in that way.

You’ve described Citadel as something that pushed a lot of creative and technical boundaries – I was curious about the challenges that might come with that, especially if there were any particularly unexpected ones?

DW: The train sequence at the very beginning [was challenging]. I mean, it's such a battle royale, right? In so many ways, I think it's a symphonic piece, in the sense that there many different instruments being played. There's incredibly rich, dramatic acting between Richard and Priyanka, great seduction at play with such humour and charm. Then there's the language of the action and the action set piece – which is its own instrument and sound – there's grand production value, there's a lot of mythology and exposition that has to be unleashed and unloaded. That to me was such an immense challenge, both from a storytelling point of view and also a production point of view. How do we make this look grand and great and real? I'm really proud of the expression of that that we've realized on screen.

JR: I mean, I think we've made so many big projects at this point that you kind of learn to expect everything! Challenges… obviously, coordinating all these different stories around the globe is very difficult, but incredibly rewarding. It does just take time, you know? You're literally building out a story for one season, another season, and another season, all at the same time – and that just gets you season one of the grand story of Citadel! If the show becomes more ambitious and we start adding other markets, it's only going to get even more complex. So, I think that was the great challenge, but as I said earlier it's also been far and away the most interesting thing I think we've done from a storytelling perspective. Beyond the collaboration at Marvel – because, you know, Marvel was specific and contained to Marvel – we're now reaching out into different parts of the world to be inspired by other storytellers, and to inspire them. I think that that is the most complex part of it, but as I said also the most rewarding.

Richard Madden as Kyle Conroy as Mason Kane in Citadel, walking through a glass corridor (Credit: Jonathan Prime/Prime Video)Richard Madden as Kyle Conroy as Mason Kane in Citadel, walking through a glass corridor (Credit: Jonathan Prime/Prime Video)
Richard Madden as Kyle Conroy as Mason Kane in Citadel, walking through a glass corridor (Credit: Jonathan Prime/Prime Video)

PCJ: Unexpected challenges… They [Joe and Anthony Russo] had to handle the whole universe, I just had to think about my character and playing two people! But even that, in itself, is really complex – like my script was this fat from here to there, and so many notes, so many scribbles, because you just have to remember and protect your character. It was so amazing to actually collaborate with our writing and filmmaking team, because there were times Richard, and I would be like, “hey, no, we haven't talked about this yet,” because the show is nonlinear, and then they'll be like, “oh, yeah, we haven't talked about that yet,” and then we would amend it. We really kept our characters in check, and each other in check, which was really fun and rewarding, because we could have each other's backs. Like, there are many moments where we remind each other of when in the past a certain conversation would have happened, and when we would have met a certain someone. So that was really fun, because you get to collaborate with all the other actors and writers in a really tangible way. But it was also the challenge of it, to ask the right questions.

DW: Oh, my God, that's near impossible. [laughs] The timelines, the identities, the truths and the secrets that any character knows at a certain time – these are spies, so they're born liars, they're paid liars. Are they lying to the audience? Are they lying to each other? Are they lying to themselves? Working with Richard and Priyanka, every day when they came to set [discussing] “what does this character know at this moment? What are the secrets of their holding? What persona are they playing? What percentage of Mason is within him, and what percentage of Kyle is within him?” It takes artists and actors with great capacity to be able to balance all of that and to really pull that off. I was so impressed by Richard and by Priyanka, their approach and their dedication and their discipline in ensuring that, you know, if you go back and rewatch the show, or if we were to edit the show into chronological order, you would really see such a sound arc for these characters and for the story.

The first two episodes of Citadel will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 28 April. You can read more of our coverage of Citadel here, and find the full version of our interview with David Weil here. 

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